664 Kilometres

On Tuesday my daughters will be leaving for 7 days with their father and travelling north of Sault Ste Marie, Ontario. Weeks like this are always very difficult for me; it’s been three years since my marriage ended and it still hurts like hell whenever my girls have to be away. 

The first time I had to say goodbye to my daughters for a full week was in August of 2016. I wrote something that day that I’d like to share here. The feelings may be slightly less raw now, but the heartache is just as present.


August 5, 2016

My ex just left to take our daughters away for the week. They’re travelling 664 kilometres away to Havilland Bay, 40 minutes north of Sault Ste Marie. That’s a 7 hour drive, give or take, and it’s 7 hours too far.

The reality of having to share our daughters…my daughters…hits home today more than any other. Because this moment will be one that I have to relive again and again and again as we now become “co-parents” instead of husband and wife, Mommy and Daddy. 

And yes, I made the choice to leave my unhappy marriage. I chose to walk away and accept this new, awful reality, because I have faith that ultimately, we will all be happier and healthier. If I had stayed a wife, I would have continued to suffer in what felt like a jail sentence instead of a marriage. And so my daughters would have suffered too. 

But this feeling…this new reality where I have to share my daughters with someone who betrayed me, used me, lied to me, cheated on me, ignored me, forgot about me, disrespected me…I can hardly bear it. 

To watch him show up in his new car, with his now stylish clothes, a new haircut and cool sneakers… To listen to him tell me about how important it is that I make sure he and his family have more time with the girls… To wave goodbye while he drives away with those two precious beings… To smile for my girls, despite the pain inside… What do I do with these feelings??

Two years is what my lawyer told me. 

Two years is what my counsellor told me.  

Two years until it stops feeling this way. 

Two years until this is “normal”. 

Two years until I’m okay. 

In this moment, it’s hard to believe that life will ever be okay, because although I left my unhappy marriage, I will never leave my children’s father. And they deserve to know him and love him, but damn I want so much for them to understand why I made the choices that I did; understand the hurt and shame and pain that he caused me. That he caused our family. 

664 kilometres is much too far between me and who I love most, and yet 664 kilometres will never be far enough away from the man who hurt me most. 


Well, I’m calling bullshit on the whole “Two years and you’ll be better” thing. Two years is nothing! It’s been THREE years since my official date of separation and I’m still hurt and angry! I still don’t trust my daughter’s other parent. I’m still in therapy and on psychiatric medication and trying to stop struggling so much! Things are getting better in some ways, but I don’t know how long it will take for me to be able to enjoy the time I have apart from my girls and not have it be so tainted with resentment and fear.

I didn’t want to be a part-time parent, but that’s how it’s ended up. I will always, always stand by the statement that choosing to have THIS life is better than the one I left behind, but that doesn’t mean it’s not difficult every day.

664 kilometres is still too far between me and who I love the most, but I have no choice but to accept it and try my best to get through the days until my heart comes back to me.

xxJ

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart) – ee cummings

Til Death Do Us Part

When you have a partner who is narcissistic or emotionally abusive and you make the choice to leave them, the advice that’s always given is to go “no contact” and cut them out of your life completely.

That would work beautifully as a solution to healing from the emotional trauma of being in a relationship with a narcissistic emotional abuser. Except…

What about when you can’t go “no contact”?

What about those of us who created beautiful children with terrible people? What about the women and men who have left an abusive partner but can’t fully escape them because of the children they share?

What about the people like me?


The single, most difficult thing about my life now is managing the co-parenting relationship I have with my daughters’ father. It feels like I continue to hold the vast majority of the parenting responsibility, as I always did, but am required to engage in a relationship with my children’s’ father, regardless of my history with him.

My struggle in this relationship is so bad that I’ve idealized the lives of other parents whose former partners have completely abandoned them and their children. I recognize (and empathize so much with) how incredibly difficult it must be for these parents, financially and otherwise. But I envy the freedom they have when it comes to making decisions for, and being caregivers of, their children.

I also envy my friends who got divorced BEFORE they had kids. In my mind, that type of divorce is akin to ending a middle-school relationship; you both move on and it never has to matter in your life again EVER. Again, I’m not saying it’s easy, just that it’s easier than divorcing when you have kids.

I don’t actually think of what my ex and I do as co-parenting. In fact, there’s a different term for the type of parenting we do: it’s called “parallel parenting.” “Parallel parenting” looks more like a business relationship than a typical parenting relationship. You detach from the other parent and operate separately, aside from making major decisions together. This article explains it much better than I can, but hopefully I’ve given you the gist.

Thinking about all this stuff makes me wonder, how do other parents manage when their partner is abusive? Whether that person is narcissistic, emotionally abusive, physically abusive, or just a shitty person…how do the non-abusive parents cope with an ongoing parenting relationship? Because it’s hard. It’s really, really, fucking hard. And it takes time to figure out ways of coping.

If you also need to continue engaging in a difficult relationship, I do have a few ways you can help minimize the effect it has on your day to day life. You can do things like…

  • Setting a specific ring- and text-tone for your former partner. This way, when calls or messages come in you know right away who it is and you can pause to prepare yourself before answering.
  • Bathing your children when they return home (or having them shower if they’re old enough) and washing the clothes they came home in. I find that scent is a HUGE trigger for me. If it’s a problem for you too, you can eliminate or reduce triggering smells by literally washing them away and the kids never have to be the wiser. All you need to say is “it’s bath night!” and that’s enough.
  • Doing all pick-ups and drop-offs outside your house or in a neutral location. Two choices here: either arrange to meet your ex and the kids somewhere close to home, but not AT your home, or move the pick-ups/drop-offs to your driveway. Again, this is about putting boundaries in your life (and your children’s lives) to keep you feeling safe and secure. Your home should be your sanctuary and if you feel threatened by your ex, inviting them in—or even just having them stand in your doorway—may be too much to ask of yourself. On top of that, and I may have some personal experience with this, opening the door to your ex may enable them to invade your space without permission. So do the drop-offs elsewhere and keep your space sacred (or at least douche-bag free).
  • A similar solution, if it’s possible with your kids, would be to arrange pick-ups and drop-offs around the school schedule so you don’t even need to face your ex at all. Yay!
  • Calling in the recruits! When you have to face your ex, having back-up in the form of another trusted person (a parent, new partner, or friend, for example) can help immensely. Not only is there strength in numbers (or at least that’s how it will look if there are two or more of you), having another person there holds both you and, more importantly, your ex accountable for what is said and done. (Soooo what I’m saying, really, is to make sure there are witnesses, because if your life starts to look more like a crime drama than an actual life, you may need them.)
  • Hiring a professional. If you have the funds, hire a parenting coach or counsellor and attend sessions separately (parallel parenting, remember?). Let the coach do the work of managing your ex’s outbursts, irrational behaviour, out-of-whack expectations, and all other forms of bullshit. If you do end up meeting as a group, you’ll have the counsellor or coach there to keep things on track and keep everyone feeling safe.

Telling abuse survivors who are parents to go no contact with our abusers is actually shitty advice We don’t get to go no contact—it turns out that when you have children with your abuser, “til death do us part” is a life sentence whether you stay married or not. Instead, we should be given tools and language that enable us to set up and, here’s the key part, maintain strong, healthy boundaries that protect us when we feel (or are literally) threatened. Life’s not as simple as just turning away from our problems and when you have kids, you always have to stare those issues straight in the face.  

xxJ


My home is my sanctuary. I feel safe here and my daughters feel at home. We can be secure in these walls no matter what else is going on.